Taking a Road Traveled by Many, written by R. is the first post in our new NEON Peer Educator Blog. Enjoy!
One thing I love about working for Project NEON as a Peer Educator is that we all come from very different walks of life. And yet, we fight the same battles and often take a road traveled by many before us.
Everyone has a story. My story is the one thing that leads me to meeting 2 of my biggest NEON peer educator role models (I'll get more into who they are in a minute). As I sit here thinking about what I should write for this week's Peer Educator Blog post, I find myself looking back over the last 2 years with a tear in my eye.
The last 2 years of my life have been the hardest I think I've ever had to go through. Yes, even worse than breaking up with my first love after 7 years. I decided to tell you guys my story. And I hope that one day it might encourage and empower readers to make better choices from the many options life throws at them. Here is how I went down a Road Traveled By Many...
March 1, 2012 (30 days before my 30th birthday) I tested poz for HIV. The idea of having HIV, at first was so unreal, only because I had been in a relationship for the last 7 years. But fate has cards it doesn't always show right away, and I was dealt a terrible hand. My boyfriend had been sleeping with someone whom he knew was HIV poz, and he even knew that he was poz, but failed to tell me this huge bit of information. Because I had spent the last 7 years with him, molding myself and discovering myself, I let my boyfriend's name be placed on everything: apartment lease, bank accounts, everything! And he did the one thing I was not expecting at all, even though I should have seen it coming from a mile away. He took everything that was ours that had his name on it away from me. The apartment he snatched right from under my feet. He emptied out the bank accounts and left me with nothing: homeless and on the streets with my cat KT (King Tut).
This chain of events proved to be too much for me to handle and I attempted to commit suicide. That's when things got real for me, way too real. I was laying in the hospital just giving up and not fighting. The only thing that kept me pushing and hopeful was my cat KT. KT had been my soul mate and it was clear from the very first day I saw him at the adoption place. He chose me, I didn't choose him. He was the last thing I had that I could actually say was mine; everything else my ex had taken from me. However little did I know my last life line was about to be taken from me also. Laying in the hospital I got a phone call from a supposed friend who had been watching KT and knew I was in the hospital. As I listened to the crock of shit story he was telling me over the phone, the words "I traded KT" blasted like fireworks in my ears. I about lost my noodle right there laying in that bed. I quickly had to pull myself together and asked "What did you trade him for"? He mumbled "1 crystal meth rock". Yes I lost my noodle. Over the next 4 months I had 5 unsuccessful suicide attempts that left me sitting in a rubber room because I had been deemed a hazard to myself.
Alone and weak mentally as well as physically, and HIV poz, I had pretty much just given up on life and drowned myself in my depression. I had no will to live. My weight dropped down to a staggering 99lbs; the last time I weighted double digits I was still in junior high. I had no appetite whatsoever. I went days almost weeks without eating one single thing and my body was fighting back. It was time for God to slap the shit out of me spiritually and say "wake up child, what the fuck are you doing"?
Released from the rubber room and able to return to the cold lonely homeless streets after 160 days, I had made up my mind thanks to God's unconditional love, that I was not going out like that and I was going to make the best of my life and just live. To this day I have no idea where KT is after several failed attempts to locate him. I just hope he's alive and being taken care of. I was in no position to care for him and give him the love and attention he deserved as well as needed, so I stopped looking for him and let him go, physically that is. He will always be in my heart and I doubt I'll ever get another cat. After the last pillar of my life was destroyed I finally discovered I could trust no one but myself, and slowly began to rebuild my world. There was and still is very, very much left to build, and it will take time and patience.
3 months out of my psych eval, my case worker sent me to Bailey Boushay House in the Madison Valley area of Seattle. The only thing I knew about this place was that HIV poz people went there to die. I was terrified. On the bus heading there I was sitting alone and balling. I was about to make the first step at laying the corner stone of my new world, but I was on the verge of breaking down. I could not fall apart not now, not ever. I stepped off the bus and my heart I swear stopped for 5 seconds and I just stood there not breathing, feeling motionless, devastated, and alone. Alone and scared. This trip to BBH also meant I was about to start taking my ARV's (Anti Retro Virals)--my HIV meds. Once I started I could not stop taking them; It was the only way and there was no turning back now as I walked in the door. As I glanced around the room I noticed 1 person I knew. Needless to say that person and I no longer talk but that's ok, because he introduced me to one person who would become the friend I needed in my life.
Honest and up front, no bull shit, and we also liked ALOT of the same music, I even nicknamed him "Diana" after Miss Diana Ross, whom we both adore. Yes this is where Ebony came into my life and has been by my side every step of the way. Through Ebony I would meet Terry and develop a bond with him. After hearing me stressing myself out over money, he suggested I call Morgan at Project NEON. I had never heard of Project NEON but was very eager to call Morgan. By the grace of God it was the best move I made. Both Terry and Ebony worked at Project NEON and both strongly encouraged me to contact Morgan. Ebony and Terry are my Project NEON role models and I feel a great deal of gratitude and love toward them; they are the best friends a boy could ever ask for. They have both touched my heart in ways no words could ever describe. All I can say is "Thank You for Being a Friend". They have taught me so much about life as well as Project NEON, and most importantly they have given me my voice back via making the world around us laugh. Laughter is great and warms the heart as well as brightens others' darkest days. If it wasn't for them I would have never been introduced to Project NEON and probably would still be using very heavily.
Well the rest is indeed history and is the foundation of what I was looking for: an opportunity to help other gay, bi and trans men find their inner voices and sing a rainbow of harm reduction and potentially recovery and sobriety. Through Project NEON I'm given the tools I need to make an impact on the community. Through networking, we teach our peers harm reduction for their safety as well as others' safety; and through this education, and the distribution of supplies for safer sex and safer use, we decrease the number of HIV poz men within our community. Word of mouth is our strongest tool. It lightens my heart when I see a contact yell at one of their friends about the way they are about to inject crystal and go over to show them the proper and safe way to do so. Of course I'm right there by both of them to encourage and support them both. I've also had the honor of sitting with several contacts who wanted to take the Home HIV Test but wanted me to stay with them and read the results. I do so for emotional support as well as peer-to-peer support. I even go with several contacts to the STD clinic to get tested for STD's and HIV. When I see my hard work and efforts affecting others in a positive way, I feel inspired and encouraged.
Through Project NEON, my own drug use has decreased a great deal, which is one thing I was hoping to get out of becoming a peer educator. I've also taken further steps and will be going to chemical dependency counseling at Seattle Counseling Service. Through Project NEON, you can get chemical dependency counseling for free! That's just another small reason why Project NEON just ROCKS!
Since joining NEON, my courage and strength in discussing my status has gone up immensely. It's much easier now, knowing that I'm not alone, and I hope this blog will help others know they aren't alone. My confidence and self-esteem have also gone up. Not having the courage to discuss your HIV status can be a roadblock in life, but it doesn't have to be. Because of NEON, I've started to pick back up on neglected areas of my life (like doing art, etc.). No one should have to take these roads alone, and as long as I'm a Peer Educator no one will because I'll be there to offer support, up-to-date harm reduction information, and encouragement to help others take the first in putting a stop to the spread of HIV. Harm reduction can be applied to everyday living, not just drug use. HIV can happen to anyone in any age range. I was diagnosed in my early 30's. That's why we need harm reduction to show individuals how to make safer choices. You always have the option!
As I bring this blog post to an end I want to stress that no matter how alone you feel, YOU ARE NOT ALONE and if you ever need someone to talk to about harm reduction and/or safer sex practices, I encourage you to contact your local peer educators. We cast judgment upon no one, and we don't force or push recovery, safer sex, or safer use. We simply encourage and educate. It's up to you what you do next and EVERYTHING that is discussed between peer educators and contacts is strictly confidential!!
I challenge the reader to do one or two things from this list:
• Get tested every 2-3 months for HIV and STIs.
• If you feel you could benefit from support or counseling, check into Seattle Counseling Service or Seattle Area Support Groups. Services at SCS are confidential! Remember to look into coverage under the Affordable Care Act if you are uninsured.
• Like ProjectNEON.org on Facebook.
• Check out the NEON website for great info like Dr. Dick articles, the Peer Educator Blog, and lots of other fun and educational stuff.